Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Lowell Harrison, Crawford Crowe, James Bennett

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Education Specialist


Luke Pryor Blackburn, Kentucky’s only physician governor, is one of the forgotten public health figures of the 19th century. As health officer of Natchez in the 1850s he instituted the first effective quarantine used in the Mississippi Valley and became a strong advocate of its use as a preventive measure in the control of yellow fever. During his lifetime Blackburn also became well known for his unselfish aid to communities stricken with the disease.

In March 1878 announced his candidacy for governor of his native state. Local politicians scoffed at his chances for election, but his actions during the 1878 fever epidemic assured his nomination. Despite scandal the philanthropist was elected by a large majority.

As the Commonwealth’s first citizen Blackburn led a crusade that achieved major prison reforms. To do so, however, he was forced to harass and uncooperative legislature and buck the state’s professional politicians, who had expected the physician to be a puppet governor. Thus, the state’s “good Samaritan” governor became one of the most unpopular men ever to serve the Commonwealth.


American Politics | Arts and Humanities | History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Political History | Political Science | Public History | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social History | United States History